Monday, July 27, 2015

[Anime] Gankutsuou Review

Gankutsuou - The Count of Monte Cristo - 8/10

"Moral wounds have this peculiarity - they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart." - The Count of Monte Cristo

Gankutsuou is the science-fiction reincarnation of The Count of Monte Cristo.  While it borrows much of its substance from the original there are significant changes to the plot, focus, and pacing. As somebody who enjoyed the original, I found that most of their alterations worked surprisingly well.  However, there were some liberties that I did disagree with and I feel made the series worse for their inclusion.

When reviewing this series I attempted to keep the original and the anime separate, but frankly I failed.  I now know how manga readers feel, continually comparing the fidelity of every character and scene.  Below, "The Bad" is principally devoted to the juxtaposition of the two, although I will endeavor to substantiate why I feel the changes were negative rather than simply being disgruntled that they were not identical.

The Good:

Just as in the source material, the Count is the dynamic center of the series.  It's hard to go wrong with such an intriguing character, and he made the transition well.  He is foreboding, charismatic, impressive, terrifying, commanding, mysterious, generous, and dangerous.  Riveting in the original, he continues his dominance into the anime as well.  What makes him so interesting is his mixture of traits.  The original character of Edmond Dantes is gentle, but has since been riven by the events of his life; at this point neither the original or the damaged is the "real him."  Only together do they make up the man that is now the Count.  There is no simple way to separate the two anymore, allowing a single man to visit generosity on some and hellfire on others.  He is not, "A good man that does some bad things" or "A bad man who does some good things."  He is the grey checkered man that he is.

I also want to give special mention to Haydee and the other female supports.  While Haydee's general role and primary scenes are not altered much, the anime enhanced her character and animated it beautifully.  I was captivated by her when she was on-screen.  Her varied expressions of anger, shock, sadness, longing, terror, and complete rage were amazing.  Peppo was also a fun character whose role was significantly expanded from the original, but who also worked quite well (and I still maintain he was FAR too cute to be male).  Even Eugenie is given better development, with her screen time transforming her elegantly from "aristocratic shopping bimbo" to a surprisingly thoughtful personality.

Beyond the characters the visuals are strange, but oddly mesmerizing once I had become accustomed.  They lent a charm and identity to the series that it may have otherwise struggled with.  The surreal aspect worked especially well at the beginning Carnival as well as the ritzy scenes in Paris, where the superficiality found clear voice in the imagery: full of color and glamour, but lacking in depth.  Beyond this, they were simply a treat at many times, even without secondary meaning.

Finally, I want to give recognition to the small details that were forged in translating the series into the future.  The small touches such as the Count recording conversations and the DNA evidence against Villefort felt very natural.  If Dumas had written his book today, these types of details are precisely what I would expect.

The Bad:

My primary charge against the series were two changes that I strongly disagreed with in the nature and fate of the Count.  The first is that the Count dies at the end.  The second is that he gained his power through a contract with a type of supernatural being.

My issue with the Count's death is that it alters the message drastically.  In the original the Count is successful with his revenge: he destroys Villefort's reputation, Danglar's finances, and Morcerf's future.  There is nothing left to do.  The final scenes of the book are now his intent to commit suicide after he's returned Valentine to Maximilien (who act as the innocent inspiration for Albert's character in the anime).  He has nothing to live for.  This is when Haydee impresses upon him that there were those who cared for him and that his life wasn't entirely compassed by revenge.  They depart on a voyage to see the world together, and the book ends.

By having the Count die in the anime, this means that instead of release he is instead consumed by revenge until the end.  While the counterbalance that he did some good (such as saving Haydee) is still there, it loses much of its impact.  This issue is further exacerbated by the elimination of most of the book scenes in which the Count uses his great wealth and power for kindness.  We get a much shallower view of the man: in the anime he was only a destroyer, and destroyed himself in the end.

The second change, that the Count's power is from an outside source, further cheapens his character.  In the original the Count is the World's Most Interesting Man by his own merit.  He was granted immense wealth through chance or fate, but all of his other skills were the result of self-training and his iron will.  He has traveled the world, seen and experienced many things, and is a man at home in any place.  This highlights the essential waste of his revenge: he's learned so much, and done so much, just so he can return to Paris and cause his enemies to suffer.  He has tragically chained himself to his past.  In the anime, all of this is simplified.  Edmond Dantes is good, Gankutsuou that inhabits him is evil.  Most of his strange powers come from this pact.  It lacks the depth of somebody whose good and evil has been twisted together inseparably.

This is especially apparent in how the different Counts are affected by their collateral damage.  In the original the Count is deeply shaken by Madam Villefort's double suicide with her son.  He didn't expect his revenge to accidentally spill over to others, and he is even brought to questioning his own revenge knowing that it has cost an innocent life.  In the anime, Gakutsuou makes light of the death, even going so far as to laugh at the destruction he has caused.  If the original Dantes is in there, he is eclipsed by this evil persona.  Again, it is far less nuanced than the original.

Beyond the Count, I also felt that Albert was simply a weak main character.  As mentioned before, Albert in the anime is actually a mixture of multiple personalities from the original. On top of this, he is given the standard anime whitewash: his primary occupations are to cry the names of his friends repeatedly and break down in helpless tears of regret.  With so many better characters in the series (namely the Count himself), Albert felt like a relatively dull choice.  It was as though being an anime, the writers couldn't resist making the protagonist a teenager with his first love interest.  I guess I am at least grateful that he wasn't attending high school, sitting in the back corner near the window.

Even with these weaknesses, I still consider the series worth watching.  It was enthralling to see the original tale enacted in a surreal future setting, and even with the debatable alterations the quality of the narrative shines through.

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